February is National Pet Dental Health Month! According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), up to 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show evidence of dental disease by the age of three. Keeping up with oral hygiene is a key part of the overall health of your pet. Neglecting their dental health does not only cause bad breath, but it can lead to excessive tartar build up, swollen and infected gums, tooth sensitivity and pain. This collection of dental problems is referred to as periodontal disease. Prolonged periodontal disease can cause other problems for your pet too. Drooling, decresed appetite, and weight loss can all result from ignoring your pet’s oral health. Ultimately, harmful bacteria from the plaque build up on your pet’s teeth can enter the bloodstream. This can lead to serious diseases that can affect internal organs, especially the heart, liver and kidneys.

The first step is to identify problems at home. Expose the side of your pet’s mouth by turning up the top lip. Do you notice bad breath, red and swollen gums, yellow or brown tartar covering the teeth, pain or bleeding when you touch the gums? If you notice any of these problems or are just unsure, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away. Don’t wait until their next check up, as periodontal disease can progress very quickly. Your veterinarian can assess the extent of oral disease present, and make recommendations to best improve your pet’s dental and overall health.

When a pet is diagnosed with periodontal disease, usually it is recommended that they have a dental cleaning under general anesthesia. The procedure is very similar to the scaling and polishing done at a human dental office, however, anesthesia is obviously required because our pets aren’t as compliant as we are! Once your pet is under anesthesia, a veterinarian will scale all of the teeth, removing bacteria and dental tartar above and below the gumline. They will then evaluate each tooth for fractures, exposed roots, loose teeth, gingival problems, oral masses, etc. Often teeth may need to be removed for the pet’s health and well being. Talk with your veterinarian before the procedure on the likelihood of tooth extractions for your pet. Once the teeth are clean, the veterinarian will then polish them. This creates a smooth surface of the teeth, which will help decrease future tartar build-up. Usually it it recommended that this procxedure be repeated yearly or every other year.

After a cleaning, there are several things you can do at home to care for your pet’s teeth. Frequent brushing can help reduce tartar build up. Gradual and short brushing sessions are key in establishing a good routine that your pet will tolerate. Talk with your veterinarian on tips to effectively brushing your dog or cat’s teeth. If your pet is unwilling to tolerate teeth brushing, special foods may be used to decrease dental tartar. Avoid bones or hard objects that can injure the mouth or fracture a tooth. Also pets can swollow these objects, leading to other serious complications. Talk with your veterinarian about special treats, sprays, or other products that claim to reduce tartar or bad breath.

Sometimes bad breath can be caused by problems unrelated to dental disease. Sudden changes in your pet’s breath should be evaluated quickly by a veterianrian. Foreign objects can become trapped in the mouth which can cause an infection. This can lead to a foul odor and painful mouth. Other systemic disease like diabetes or kidney problems can also cause changes in your dog or cat’s breath. Schedule an appoitment if you notice a problem, especially if you notice a change in your pet’s behavior.

The key to good oral hygiene is keeping up on your pet’s dental health and preventing problems before they start. Talk with your veterinarian about any concerns you may have. A clean and healthy mouth can be a great way to show your pet you care.

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